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Learning to See the Timeless Infinite Universe

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The scientific study of how particles move about led to Quantum Mechanics which led to Quantum Theory and finally The Many Worlds Theory, almost sixty years after the wavelike structure of the atomic world was discovered. In the past it was estimated that over half of the world's leading physicists believe the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct. In recent years we have determined that the geometry of space-time is flat, which indicates the universe is indeed infinite.

People:   Albert Einstein   Stephen Hawking   Hugh Everett   David Bohm

"So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be."
Alfred Lord Tennyson


From The Book:
  Everything Forever:
Learning to See Timelessness










Infinite Universe: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real "wow, that's big" time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we're trying to get across here."
Douglas Adams













For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed."
Blaise Pascal












…an understanding of the infinite tree of universes seems to be needed in order to make statistical predictions about the properties of our own universe, which is assumed to be a typical “branch” on the tree."
Alan Guth










Related  Links

The Everett Faq

Hugh Everett III and the Many Worlds Theory
A Branching Out of Many Worlds  (p/o chapter ten)

Our known universe is defined by two transformations. In the first all the strange and chaotic futures we might imagine do not happen because of nature's consistent laws and forces. Primarily gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force, and the weak force, remove from possibility all of what we would think of as weird or irregular events. The forces of nature create a wonderfully predictable world where the sun rises and sets each day.

However, if we think about it, we can reason that there must be many other unique morning and evenings that don't happen here in our own world, and all are reasonably as possible as the one world we experience. Why don't they exist? Do they exist elsewhere? If we utilize the same laws and forces of nature, we can conceive of many other paths of time, or many tomorrows, all happening in other worlds.

Each one of us who has ever contemplated the universe has at one time wondered why our one world would exist when all the others as equally possible never made it to the party. It is when we study quantum mechanics that we find nature acknowledging all those other worlds that are equal in possibility to our own. 

What is imagined as possible by science, beyond the one world we experience, increased significantly after we discovered that all the small particles that collectively construct our world travel through space as probability waves. Instead of traveling from point A to point B like a thrown baseball, today we understand that light behaves in some ways like a solid particle when it interacts with other particles, however, when light travels from place to place, like a wave in an ocean it has no definite position. In fact, even matter particles, such as the particles that make up our bodies, regularly disappear between one position and the next.

The wave nature of light was first discovered by Thomas Young who noticed that two light beams can shine through each other without the particles colliding and scattering as they cross paths. This is because two crossing beams of light particles remain wavelike between source and destination. Young also recognized that light waves interfere with one another just as sound and water waves interfere. Young produced a narrow beam of light that passed through a thin divider onto a screen. The divider splits the light beam in half. It would follow logically that if the beam of light was made from tiny particles then the result should just be two spots of light on the screen. But Young found the light multiplied into a pattern of light and dark lines, which modern scientists call an interference pattern.

Below in the split screen experiment the wave of a single particle passes through two slits, then upon recombining the two waves interfere with one another. The resulting interference is virtually identical to the interference caused when two waves on the surface of water interact after they pass through two openings in a wall. The two waves colliding together add up in some places and cancel in other places.

Each photon particle travels away from its source purely as a wave of probability.

One of the founders of quantum theory, Werner Heisenberg discovered what is now a key principle concerning all quantum behavior. As a particle gives up information about its location, information about its momentum is lost in equal measure. This is called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which states that both the position and momentum of a particle cannot be known. The more we know about one, the less we know about the other. So as a rule, whenever a particle assumes a precise position in reality, in that instant it has no momentum. And whenever a particle is moving from one place to another, it has no specific location. Only when the particle interacts with something else does it then establish which physical reality we will experience, but in between interactions the particle exists in another type of reality, a sort of multiplicity where all possibilities are combined together.

Quantum theory was developed near the turn of the century and it wasn’t until 1957 that all the possibilities within each quantum wave led a young graduate student of physics named Hugh Everett III to produce the now famous Many-Worlds Theory as his doctorate thesis. Everett was a student of John Archibald Wheeler, the renowned American physicist and longtime Professor at Princeton. The Many-Worlds Theory makes the simple conclusion that one probabilistic outcome is as real as any other, predicting an immense surplus of many-worlds branch away from each moment of now.

We can imagine an infinite number of copies identical to our present, but then in the next moment, in each copy there is one single particle that is in a slightly different position than all the others. The denser areas of probability in the interference pattern represent the more probable worlds, while the thin areas represent the least probable worlds. The areas outside the wave pattern that are completely dark can be thought of as worlds outside the realm of quantum possibility.

The First transformation

There are two basic transformations occurring in every moment of every day which are inevitably built into the unfolding of time. In the first transformation, the majority of bizarre futures one might find in the imaginary stories of science fiction, horror, and fantasy tales are erased from possibility. This boundary between what is possible and impossible is created by what we otherwise know as the laws and forces of nature. The forces of nature control and define the areas that matter particles can move about within. Forces are simply the shapes of probability waves, and those shapes bond particles together, in groups, in lattices, in symmetries. Once this first transformation is complete there are still many different tomorrows possible that abide by nature’s rules. We can imagine all sorts of different events that could possibly happen in the unfolding of each new day. The quantum wave is essentially all the other worlds that are equal in possibility to our own.

This first transformation is probably best described by the Sum Over Histories method of mathematically determining the shape of the probability wave, which was developed by Richard Feynman. Feynman's original highly creative approach doesn’t merely consider the expected classical paths of particles, it mathematically sums every conceivable path through time and space, even those that disobey the laws of physics, so a particle zig-zags from left to right, and loop d' loops irregularly in all directions, irrespective even of past and future. Yet when every conceivable path is considered and the amplitude of each is summed up, the irregular waves end up canceling one another, while only the expected waves that abide physical laws remain. For some unknown reason, when all conceivable histories are summed all that remains are the possibilities of everyday life.

Quantum mechanics led physicists such as David Bohm and John Bell to argue that the wave-particle duality signifies a deep interconnectedness in nature. Where Bohm developed concepts such as implicate and explicate order to explain the wave particle duality, Bell explained that no complete explanation of the quantum behavior of particles is possible within what we normally think of as the physical universe. Bell's theorem argues that quantum mechanics involves a non-local process. In other words, some non-local process shapes the world we live in.

The Second Transformation

The first transformation eliminates all the weird or abstract worlds we might find in a horror movie. The second transformation is when the multiplicity of possible worlds transforms into the single world we live in. We only experience one world at a time. But what causes this second transformation to happen? Exactly when does it happen? We naturally expect this second transformation occurs as a solid and definite past rolls into an indeterminate future. Only that isn’t how things work at all. Instead the past is also a wave of probability. 
Nothing reveals the inevitable existence of Many-Worlds more vividly than the story of Schrödinger's cat. To illustrate how the absurd multiplicity of the quantum wave effects the unfolding of physical reality, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger created a vivid thought experiment where he places an ordinary cat within a delicately rigged box. Inside this box there is a radioactive atom that is in a probabilistic state of decay. The atom has a fifty percent chance of decaying within a short duration of time, a half life, of about five minutes. If this atom should decay it will expel a single electron particle that will register on a Geiger counter, also inside the box, and upon detection a hammer will break a glass vile of cyanide gas, instantly killing the cat, that is, if the particle decays. So the door is shut on this contraption and we wait five minutes.

We know from quantum mechanics that until we open the box, in the same way the photon travels through both slits, the atom remains in a wave-like state of multiplicity where after five minutes, in half of all possible worlds it has decayed and in the other half it has remained stable. In fact, until there is a deterministic outcome which we create by opening the door and observing the contents of the box, the atom exists in both states simultaneously. Schrödinger pointed out that since the atom remains in a wave-like state of nothing but probability, as odd as it seems, the wave extends to the Geiger counter inside the box, which also exists in a wave-like multiplicity of having detected the decay and opened the cyanide in half of all possible worlds, and having not in the other half, which further means that the seemingly single cat we placed in the box is somehow simultaneously alive and dead. 

Of course this cat-unfriendly experiment has never taken place, it serves only to scientifically dramatize how quantum mechanics, one of the most successful theories of science, extends to the larger macrocosmic world of cats and people, and in so doing it forces us to dramatically change how we imagine the world around us.

The state of the cat can be interpreted in one of two ways, both of which define reality in dramatic fashion. In the Copenhagen interpretation we say the decaying atom is in a wave-like state and so is not real, it is just probability, meaning that it has neither decayed nor remained stable until we open the door of the box. But what about the experience of the cat inside the box? If the atom somehow isn’t real when wave-like, then the cat isn’t real either, it’s neither dead nor alive. But is this idea acceptable? It is one thing to imagine a particle isn’t real if a human being isn’t observing it, and another to imagine a cat needs to be observed. 

Believe it or not, there are some who egocentrically claim that only humans can create reality. The Copenhagen interpretation led one physicist to remark that the moon doesn’t exist when no one is looking at it. Of course if someone is arrogant enough to claim that the cat’s observations aren't independently real, the next hypothetical step would be to place that person in the box and start the experiment over.

In the Many-Worlds version of Schrödinger’s cat we don't try to avoid the idea that beyond our vision two realities exist simultaneously, so we say the particle has decayed in one reality, and remained stable in the other reality, and two superimposed conflicting realities exist. But neither reality is yet connected in a definite way to an observer standing outside the box. Instead the experiment has created two cats, one is dead and one is alive. Then when we open the box to observe the dead or alive cat we collapse the wave and connect ourselves to one of the two realities. Note however something that is really strange here. The outside world as we open the door to observe the cat, and so we ourselves, split into two principle realities. In one we exist observing the cat alive and in another we exist observing the cat as dead. What this means is that we split into two different realities in the future because behind the door there are two different pasts.

Quantum mechanics doesn’t merely reveal that time is branching away from the present. It reveals that the past is often just as indeterminate as the future. As physicist Thomas Hertog states, “Quantum mechanics forbids a single history”. This brings the infinite so much closer than even an imaginative person is comfortable with. What is perhaps the most startling consequence of discovering quantum mechanics, is realizing that everything beyond our observations exists in a state of multiplicity.

When we imagine the future we usually see it as potential. Some people state that anything can happen although we don’t expect much of anything will happen, we expect the ordinary, but we at least imagine that the varied possibilities of the future grow greater with a greater period of time. What might happen tomorrow is rather limited compared to what all might happen in a year or a decade. But we think the infinite possibilities are out there in the future. As it turns out, the past is also probabilistic. Quantum mechanics suggests that anything we haven’t yet observed, everything happening in another state or country, everything happening a mile away, literally everything in the world beyond our five senses, is in a quantum state of multiplicity. The infinite isn’t out there in the distant future. It is just on the other side of any door. It is just beyond our vision, our hearing, our touch, our smell. It is everything we don’t know. If we haven’t yet read the news of the day, all the possible newsworthy events are happening simultaneously in alternative universes waiting for us to turn each page of the newspaper, and only then do we connect with one of those worlds.

Some scientists shrug at the Many-Worlds Theory and continue to believe there is something that makes quantum reality operate only at the subatomic level, and not at a macrocosmic level where we live. But the technological applications of quantum mechanics to chemistry and electronics have already had a tremendous impact upon society. In addition to television shows and movies where characters cross over into parallel universes, physicists are working toward a complete quantum description of reality. If a complete theory is ever accomplished, it will explain why certain things are possible while others are less so, and it will tell us what is impossible. Presently, the Many-Worlds Theory does not claim that other worlds with different laws and forces of nature cannot exist, but if the probabilities of quantum mechanics were found to be basic to nature then we would reasonably conclude the same laws govern all of existence.

Lots more about the Timeless Infinite Universe at: 


Advanced Study:  Grouping and Symmetry Order

This essay last updated Mar 16th, 2007

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